CPSU renews call for stronger arbitral powers

CPSU Victoria secretary Karen Batt has called on the Federal Government to strengthen the Fair Work Act to help state public sector employees who are unable to finalise new enterprise agreements without protracted industrial action.

Batt's call comes after the union's argument for the restoration of compulsory arbitral powers to resolve protracted public sector disputes was not adopted up by the Fair Work Act review panel.

Batt told Workplace Express that Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten should view the current protracted Parks Victoria dispute – which will go to a workplace determination hearing on December 3 – as the "worst example to date of State Government stalling that manipulates shortcomings in his legislation".

"The law shouldn't allow bargaining to drag on for more than 18 months after an agreement expires and more than two years since the last pay increase to even get wage hearings underway," she said.

"The extreme actions that are required to be undertaken or threatened by public sector workers, in this case park rangers, just to attract the jurisdiction of Fair Work Australia to be empowered to settle the dispute, is a disgrace."

The previous agreement covering Parks Victoria workers expired on May 31, 2011, with the last pay rise in October 2010.

Fair Work Australia terminated the employees' industrial action in July when the CPSU, AWU and ASU were about to impose bans on search and rescue, and bushfire and flood responses.

FWA President Iain Ross recently involved himself in the workplace determination and has now set directions requiring the union and Parks Victoria management to file their draft workplace determination by this Wednesday. Exchanges of documents will then take place during October and November.

Batt said the recent spike in public sector industrial action can be largely attributed to the action taken by her public sector members along with Victorian nurses, teachers, and public health employees in pursuing the only avenue available to them in the event of the state government taking a fixed bargaining position.

The Fair Work Act Review did not recommend any changes to existing arbitral powers, preferring instead to maintain a system where "arbitration is to be the exception rather than the rule".

The CPSU was able to reach agreement with the Victorian Government for its general public service enterprise deal after a workplace determination process, while agreements were struck between the government and police, nurses and mental health workers after protracted industrial action in each sector.

Change in Victorian Government policy position

The Baillieu Government has recently released its revised Public Sector Workplace Relations policies through the Department of Treasury and Finance website.

One significant change from the 2010 policies document is the inclusion of a model dispute resolution clause which would enable arbitration of unresolved issues only if both parties consent.


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